Irish transport projects will receive their largest capital injection in 15 years under the budget, with a focus on low-carbon travel and maintaining fare reductions for public services.
Although carbon tax hikes will see petrol and diesel costs increase by 2 cent per litre from October, a simultaneous readjustment in an oil levy will cancel that out for motorists at the pumps.
Tuesday’s budget had a strong Green Party imprint on transport matters, with fare reductions, electric vehicles and walking and cycling infrastructure to the fore.
“I am allocating €2.6 billion of capital funding to transport; this represents the highest level of capital investment since 2008,” Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath told the Dáil.
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“This will help us to progress key transport infrastructural projects including Bus Connects, Metro Link and the Dart+ programme. This investment in our transport network, the reductions announced in passenger fares and the continued rollout of electric vehicle grants will assist us greatly in meeting our ambitious climate targets.”
The 20 per cent average fare discount is to continue until the end of 2023 while a Youth Travel Card for those aged 19-23 offers half price fares across the transport network next year.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the “prize” was the ability to maintain reductions while expanding services.
“Irish people respond when you provide good public transport services,” he said. “A 50 per cent cut is not insignificant, or a 20 per cent [cut], but actually if it’s a choice . . . I think people also want new services and I believe that should be our focus now.”
In low-carbon transport, there will be continued funding to support transition to electric vehicles including €110 million in charging infrastructure and EV grants, although the latter will be scaled back from next July.
The carbon tax rate per tonne of emissions for petrol and diesel will increase from €41 to €48.50 from October in line with the trajectory set out in the 2020 Finance Act.
While this will mean an increase of just more than 2 cent per litre of petrol and diesel, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said a similar reduction in the national oil reserves agency levy will mean “the price at the pump won’t go up as a result”.
In rail investment, the budget has allowed for 41 new intercity railcars, boosting peak capacity across intercity services by 34 per cent, while construction will begin on the first phase of the Cork Area Commuter Rail Programme. Further development of the proposed Cork Light Rail Transit will also be funded, including initial public consultation.
Maintenance of the country’s road network alone will receive €1 billion in spending, as well as €400 million for the construction of roads. Funding will provide 91 new double-deck and 30 single-deck electric buses across the country, with expanded services expected through BusConnects in Dublin and farther afield.
Variable speed limits should be introduced on to the M50 in Dublin by early 2023. Regional airports will receive €36 million.
Walking and cycling infrastructure, too, will receive almost €1 million per day, including €60 million for greenways. Budget 2023 sees funding for research on how to encourage more women and girls to choose cycling as a regular transport option.
Both Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said the low-cost public transport fare schemes did not go far enough.
“Rural link services are totally inadequate and should have been quadrupled,” Ms Murphy said, adding there was a “serious problem” with reliability in the public transport system.
Similarly, Mr O’Rourke repeated his party’s call for hastening the Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan. “It’s not the type of aggressive rollout we need to see,” he said.